How realistic are plans to ban new gas and diesel cars?

How realistic are plans to ban new gas and diesel cars?
A demonstrator wearing a face mask with the inscription "Kill diesel emissions" protests the "Diesel Summit" that is to take place in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. German auto bosses, ministers and state governors are considering how to reduce diesel emissions as drivers face the threat of possible bans on driving older diesel cars in some cities. A meeting Wednesdayis to bring together leading politicians with bosses from Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Opel and Ford. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

Ban the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by a deadline—2040, 2030, even 2025. More and more governments are proposing just that.

But how seriously can such deadlines be taken?

The issue of how to phase out polluting traditional engines has been pushed to the forefront by scandals and crises. First Volkswagen's admission to cheating on U.S. diesel emissions tests, and more recently a push by cities in Germany and elsewhere to ban diesels to make the air cleaner.

The political desire to switch to get rid of traditional engines, however, runs into a number hurdles in the real world. More recharging stations need to be set up globally, at a potentially high cost. And millions of jobs depend on the production of internal combustion engines, making the decision politically difficult in many places.

"I think there's a majority, especially in cities, who say 'we need change,'" says Dieter Janecek, a member of Germany's Green party who is campaigning for re-election in the national poll Sept. 24 on his party's official call for an end to new gas and diesel sales by 2030.

He is running not just from anywhere but from Bavaria, home to auto giant BMW.

Yet he thinks the call to phase out traditional engines is a winner. Janecek, 41, says that many people are "skeptical of the internal combustion engine, because they have to live with the consequences and the emissions." That's particularly true of urbanites—more than half the residents of Munich's innermost neighborhoods don't even own a car. And it is in cities where the pollution issue is most pressing.

A lot would have to happen before such a big move happens, however.

There aren't enough public fast-charging stations that can enable longer trips with all-electric cars. Janecek loves his electric Renault Zoe, which has enough range to make campaign trips and then get back home to recharge overnight. But for longer trips, he and his wife rely on her conventional Toyota Yaris, a common compromise arrangement among early adopters. Experts say electrics could start to beat gas and diesel on cost and convenience by the mid-2020s as battery range and infrastructure improve.

Janecek concedes that "yes, it's very ambitious. On the other hand, there are countries like Norway that want to move ahead faster. I am convinced it will happen."

And then there is the impact on those who make gas and diesel engines.

Banning internal combustion engines from 2030 would affect more than 600,000 jobs in Germany directly or indirectly, or 10 percent of the nation's workforce, according to a study commissioned by the German Association of the Automotive Industry.

How realistic are plans to ban new gas and diesel cars?
From right to left : Harald Krueger, CEO of German car maker BMW, Dieter Zetsche, chairman of German car maker Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz cars and Matthias Mueller, CEO of German car maker Volkswagen have taken seat to attend a so-called diesel summit on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 in Berlin. German government officials and automakers meet to discuss the future of diesel vehicles, after a nearly two-year saga of scandal spread from Volkswagen to others in the sector. (Axel Schmidt/Pool Photo via AP)

That may be why the dates touted by governments to end the sale of traditional engines look more like soft targets than drop-dead dates.

Norway has aggressively promoted electrics, but even there the proposed elimination of gas and diesel except for hybrids by 2025 is a goal to be achieved, not a fixed date for a ban. France and Britain are looking at 2040—so far ahead that the politicians involved will no longer be around and technology will have changed in ways that are hard to predict. The former Netherlands cabinet proposed all electrics by 2035, but a new government will have to take the final decision. Carmaker Volvo said in July that all its models will have an electric motor from 2019 onwards. However, many of those cars will be hybrids, which also have an internal combustion engine and are regarded as a halfway house to emissions-free driving.

In California, the powerful Air Resources Board is pushing manufacturers to include more zero-emission vehicles in their lineups, without calling for a ban by a specific date. China is heavily incentivizing electrics.

Still, soft goals can have serious impact; Norway reached its target of 50,000 electrics in 2015, three years ahead of schedule.

"It's an easy thing to say, especially since some of those politicians will not be around in 2040," said Brett Smith, assistant director of the manufacturing, engineering and technology group at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "The practicality of it is another matter."

What would happen to resale values for owners of internal combustion cars as the deadline approaches? What would happen to gas stations and their owners? Those are "huge questions politicians don't really want to think about when they set those dates," Smith said.

The dates are "more like guidelines, and when we get closer we'll figure out how to get there. It's not an unreasonable approach."

As important as the deadlines are the incentives governments give to the industry and consumers.

In Norway, electrics are exempt from the 25 percent value-added tax and other fees. Higher taxes on cars that pollute more would offset lost revenue. Just as important, most of Norway's electricity comes from hydro power, not from burning fossil fuel. That means increased demand for power from cars won't mean more emissions from coal- or natural gas-fired electricity plants.

The industry, meanwhile, is committed to diesel and traditional engines for the near future while it ramps up investment in new technologies. Daimler spent 3 billion euros ($3.5 billion) developing a new, lower emissions diesel engine that is already in some of its E-class sedans. At the same time, it is spending 10 billion euros on electric and autonomous technology.

Governments do the industry a favor by setting firm deadlines, says Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Germany's University of Duisburg-Essen. "Clear dates, such as 2040 for instance, would mean that the car makers could make a clear plan what to do in the future."

Smith said the market would still play a major role: "If the business model is there, people will find a way to fund it."

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User comments

Aug 03, 2017
Can they do it?

I think it will be hard but feasible. And hugely beneficial.

Aug 03, 2017
Anything is possible in the land-of-make-believe, you just have to believe.
In the real world: Greenpeace uses marine diesel to propel their ships and motorboats.

Aug 03, 2017
Very hard to predict that far ahead. If the goal was hitting 100% electric by 2027 instead of 2040, I would confidently guess there would have to be a large number of exceptions made. But maybe by 2040 the unrestricted sales volume of ICE vehicles will be so low as to make them unprofitable with current manufacturing techniques. On the other had, it is possible that the more advanced 3D printers certain to come may make any volume profitable. A few eccentrics, and oil barons giving us the symbolic middle finger, will certainly still want new ICE vehicles in 2040. Looking even further down the road, maybe high school seniors in the distant future will print off ICE cars at home to drive for few days so they can experience a little bit of history and see how their knuckle-dragging ancestors drove in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Their schools will have to set up an historical gasoline pump the kids will marvel at. :-) Again, very hard to predict that far ahead.

Aug 03, 2017
Market forces are heading that direction already. Governmental actions like this will help - setting targets for the automobile industry, enabling the decision making process. 2050 won't be as hard as you might be thinking. By 2035 that target may look quite easy.

Aug 03, 2017
Greenpeace uses marine diesel to propel their ships and motorboats.

So your point is that if someone can't be perfect, they should let all manner of evil prevail? Because Greenpeace uses marine diesel they should allow the whales to be slaughtered? I suppose the founding fathers of the U.S. should have never complained about freedom because most of them owned slaves too.

We should all aspire to leave the world better than we found it, and that on balance, the world benefited from our existence, not suffered.

Aug 03, 2017
Exactly what I just posted on the article regarding the actual catalytic process. The media hype makes it sound doable but it is actually wishful thinking. Magical thinking actually as an existing infrastructure is very hard to alter. We are still hoping for solar over coal plants as if that will happen. Its like we are creating this air balloon of though that will be picked up by history to exaggerate our claims. I consider this constant drum beat of yet-to-be false news.

Aug 03, 2017
And millions of jobs depend on the production of internal combustion engines

Keeping a dead technology alive just for the sake of jobs is not an argument.
Car manufacturers are also ideally suited to build the next generation of EVs...since they already know how to make cars. So there's no reason why the gros of the workforce couldn't keep their jobs.

What would happen to gas stations and their owners?

So turn them into charging stations. It's not like this is rocket science level tech (or even particularly expensive to set up...since it requires none of the environmental permits needed for gas stations). Gas stations are like any store. If they only sell stuff no one wants then they'd better adapt or die. Again: keeping stuff alive just for the sake of it is stupid.

Aug 03, 2017
"We are still hoping for solar over coal plants as if that will happen. "

Where do you live?

We provide the same kWh as it takes to run our house and car from our PV panels.

Aug 03, 2017
Meanwhile, in the real world: it's easy to replace coal with carbon-free nuclear power, but coal with wind/solar placebos, just in eco-nuts' dream.
"Just 14 per cent of our energy isn't from fossil fuels, and this has barely changed in 25 years"
"Germany's long goodbye to coal despite Merkel's green push" - August 2, 2017
"Wind and solar cannot even fill current gaps and a system run mainly on green power would fail to provide guaranteed supply over a winter fortnight"
"Power grid operator Amprion has said German networks came close to blackouts during settled and overcast conditions in January when renewable plants produced almost nothing. "

Aug 03, 2017
@WillieWard, here is Germany's energy pie at the moment: https://twitter.c...32869376
The renewable energy fraction is 37% and will continue growing.

on this year alone, it is increasing every month, up to 43% on June: https://twitter.c...76897792

and Germany will build factory that rival Elon Musk's Gigafactory and produce tons of energy storage system:

Your pessimism do not apply to germany.

Aug 05, 2017
gigawatt-installed ≠ gigawatt-generated
"Germany installed 11% more wind capacity but generated 2% less electricity from wind. Why? Wind is unreliable."
"Germany installed 4% more solar but generated 3% less electricity from solar in 2016. Why? Sunlight is unreliable."
"German electricity was 10x dirtier than French electricity in 2016"
"closing nuclear plants resulted higher emissions in Germany, Japan, Vermont & California."
"Split atoms, not raptors!"

Aug 05, 2017
A Tesla Model 3 showed up in a neighbor's driveway. They have PV, too.

At the end of the year we will get our second EV.

And GM has some autonomous Chevy Bolts here in the Bay Area, and I want one for my daughter.

Aug 05, 2017
Santee Cooper, SCANA abandon Summer nuclear plant construction
The decisions spell the end for one of two nuclear plants under construction in the U.S. today.
Southern Nuclear to oversee Vogtle construction, replacing Westinghouse
Georgia Power signed the agreement with Southern Nuclear, but cost and other issues remain.
Deepwater, Tesla to pair offshore wind farm with 40 MWh battery storage system
The 144 MW Revolution Wind project would help Massachusetts meet its 1,200 MW target for new renewable energy.
SCANA CEO: White House did not respond to pleas for Summer nuke support
Kevin Marsh says he and his Santee Cooper counterpart spoke to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and other high White House officials.

Vogtle nuke cost could top $25B as decision time looms

Aug 07, 2017
I love a combustion engine and the smell of gasoline almost as much as Toad of Toad Hall, but let's face it… you would rather be locked in a closed room with 20 chain smokers than a running combustion engine. We didn't have any choice about limiting exhaust fumes until now. For novelty, sport and industry they have their place. But for basic transport it's kind of retro and gross, once you KNOW.

There will always be work that needs done. It's just as arguable that fewer combustion engines equals more work for people, not less. Because the sky is not as high as a small city is wide, there is no more space for dumping 30L/second of fumes just to move around. I'll get over it. I might even like the change.

Aug 07, 2017
Greenpeace uses marine diesel to propel their ships and motorboats.
What's next, Willy? You plan on letting us know that the Saturn V doesn't run on batteries, either?

Try to follow the discussion, Willy.... Cars in Europe

Aug 07, 2017
Greenpeace uses marine diesel to propel their ships and motorboats.
A thing that has several times been verified unable to generate electricity to power a small vehicle, will be used to power a continental fleet.
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein
In the end, electric cars are fossil-powered.
"Why electric cars are crap : at 1.5 MJ/Kg, a ham sandwich has a higher energy density than a Li-battery"

Aug 07, 2017
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